The temple at which doom musicians worship is the amplifier. Your amp is the heart of your rig, and musicians of any genre are always checking out new amps and searching for more power. Drone masters Sunn O))) even named their band after their favorite brand of amps, and a quick look at their towering wall of back-line amps shows how serious they are about the subject.
But do you really need a wall of speakers behind you to sound heavy? No — a good sound engineer paired with a good PA can make even a 1×12” combo amp sound huge, but nothing can replace that all-encompassing feeling of a stack of amps behind you roaring at full bore, pushing the thick, dark winds of tone past you and into the audience.
Vintage tube amps are king in the world of doom metal, but they are also hard to come by. Luckily, there are plenty of modern equivalents that get the job done just as well.
A Plexi-era Marshall head is the perfect palette to start building your tone. Renowned throughout rock history, these amps are relatively simple, often with just one channel, and a master volume knob if you’re lucky.
If you can’t land yourself a vintage ’70s JMP you still have some options. Modern reissues like the Marshall 1987XL head recreates the classic “Plexi” tone. Another paragon amp is the JCM 800, which has been used on too many rock albums to name.
Marshall’s “studio vintage” line captures the tone of these classic amps in 20 watt versions. You may need a good PA to help get you doom levels of loud, but the tone is there.
Laney, another brand from across the pond, has been the go-to brand of Sabbath’s Tony Iommi for decades, and while it may have a few extra bells and whistles you may or may not need, his custom TI100 is definitely
doom-worthy. Another cult-classic in the world of down-tuned riff rock is the Ampeg V4. While technically a bass amp, the V4 is a lean, mean, tone machine. Pushing a guitar through it, you have tons of headroom to do
all your heavy lifting, and then you can use pedals to dirty up your tone.
Doom-Inspired Half Stacks:
When doom pioneers Sleep got an advance to record their seminal album Dopesmoker, they reportedly blew all the money on amps and the herb that helped inspire the album. Among the stacks were plenty of Matamps and their offshoots of Electric, Green, Blue and a few other color amps. These amps are built almost exclusively for the doom/stoner metal crowd.
Doom musicians are welcoming to smaller amp builders that are willing to step outside of the box. Emperor cabs are another brand pretty much synonymous with heavy bands. While there was a split in the brand, resulting in the branch off to Tyrant, the core brand of Emperor is back to hand-building amps and cabs out of Chicago.
Verellen amps are another very popular mainstay with riff lords. hand-built by Ben Verellen, the guitarist/vocalist for Helms Alee, these amps are pure powerhouses. His Meatsmoke 300-watt bass heads are even used by plenty of guitarists for brain-crushing tone and volume.
A more accessible option is Orange amps. You really can’t go wrong with any of their amps, but the Rockerverb series stands out. Plus for some brutal, tiny-tone, the Terror series may be small, but these amps have a hell of a lot of both bark and bite.
For cabs, their PPC412-C 4×12” cab is a beefy 13-ply Baltic birch and high-density birch plywood construction, and the 240 watt power capacity yields a tighter bass response and enhanced mids, which is great for keeping all your down-tuned chugs from becoming a muddy mess. Finally, you can never go wrong with a classic, and plenty of crushing riffs have rumbled out of a Marshall 1960 cab.